Davis City Manager Dirk Brazil told the Vanguard late on Tuesday afternoon that the Davis Innovation Center was “put on hold.” Mr. Brazil stated that he was “surprised and disappointed.”
According to Mr. Brazil, he got assurances from the developers that this had nothing to do with city processes and that they were satisfied with the work from city staff. Mr. Brazil said he asked and they told him “point blank that the city staff has been wonderful to work with.”
The focus, he said, now shifts over to Mace Curve and Nishi.
The Davis Innovation Center was one of two formal applications that came forward out of the city’s RFEI (request for expressions of interest) process last spring. The project was described as a 208-acre high-technology innovation and research campus located at Highway 113 and Covell Boulevard.
The project proposed the development of a state-of-the-art innovation center campus for high-technology offices, research and development, hotel, and employee-serving retail and recreational uses with a proposed FAR (floor area ratio) of 0.5.
The proposed project contained about 3 million square feet of building space and, along with Mace and Nishi, the city was proposing adding 7 million square feet of potential innovation space.
However, the plan was not without its critics. In late February, residents of the Binning Tract, a 54-unit housing area outside of the city and just north of the proposed Davis Innovation Center, expressed their concerns about a development that they said would come within 150 feet of their backyards.
Concerns by the neighbors covered a large variety of issues, from flooding and impacts on the existing vernal pools and flood drainage system, in an area that floods frequently now — even during periods of relatively low rainfall. They are concerned with the size of the project, the impact of traffic on a roadway system that is narrow and poorly designed, in their view, as it is now.
In a statement from the Davis Innovation Center spokesperson Marika Rose, “After investing considerable time and resources to respond to the City of Davis Request for Expression of Interest (RFEI) and submit our proposal, we have decided to put our application on hold. Our decision is based on the assessment that getting approvals to develop this world class project at the current time is less likely to succeed than initially appeared.”
They added, “We strongly believe the City of Davis should entitle and annex land that can accommodate and support innovation centers. This can only be accomplished by a true public-private partnership in the spirit of the RFEI. We continue to believe that the project we have proposed could be a great asset to Davis and the region.”
Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis told the Vanguard, “I received word from the city manager today about the decision of the partnership concerning the Davis Innovation Center to put the project on hold. I have not yet had a chance to talk to the principals and therefore have no further comment at this time. I look forward to better understanding the reasons for their decision.”
Councilmember Rochelle Swanson, who has been a chief proponent of the innovation parks and economic development in Davis, did not return a text message from the Vanguard late Tuesday.
Community Development Director Mike Webb did not comment on the specifics of the Davis Innovation Center Team’s statement, but he did reiterate that the developers told the city “they were very pleased with the process here in Davis and raised no concerns with respect to the review and analysis being performed.”
Last spring, the Davis Innovation Center was one of three responses to the City of Davis Request for Expressions of Interest for development of an innovation center. Two of these ended up as formal applications.
It was almost exactly a year ago that the council formally cleared the way for the RFEI to move forward, and it was Councilmember Rochelle Swanson who passionately and forcefully pushed the conversation forward, relating her experiences in Washington on Cap-to-Cap and reading Congressman John Garamendi’s letter into the record.
Councilmember Swanson said of her trip to DC, “This year I was lobbied. This year I was pressured. This year the region is wanting to know what are we doing and why aren’t we moving forward because they’re getting really worried because we have assets that nobody else has.”
Councilmember Swanson said, “We have been talking for a long time about what we’re going to do. The innovation task force has been talking for a number of years. We’ve talked about waiting for proposals… I do worry that this search for the perfect is going to kill the good.”
“We don’t have to change the character of our community,” she said. “I just want to make sure that people are aware that now is the time, we are going to have to work together.”
The pull out of the Davis Innovation Center means, as the City Manager indicated, that the focus will shift to Nishi and the Mace Innovation Center.
In October, the Mace Innovation Center filed their formal application along with a poll that showed 60 percent of the voters responding to the following question were in support: “Would you likely support or oppose annexing approximately 200 acres of farmland at the northeast intersection of I-80 and Mace Boulevard to build a new Davis Innovation research center?”
“The Project site is of an adequate size to address the City’s need for an innovation and technology park and is ideally located since it is contiguous to the intersection of Mace Boulevard and Interstate 80 and has fiber optic capabilities immediately available,” they wrote in their application statement. “The proposal comes in the aftermath of a determination by the Innovation Park Task Force that there is an increasing demand for space for technological research and development uses and inadequate sites within the City of Davis to accommodate current and future demand.”
Dan Ramos, who heads up that development team, was not able to comment on Tuesday night, but will have a follow up comment for the Vanguard.
—David M. Greenwald reporting